A big thank you to the Richmond Chamber of Commerce for allowing us to speak on the subject of Brexit’s impact on business. The main speaker, Alison de Lord of Richmond upon Thames College, delivered an excellent overview of the law and practice as it stands, allowing us to segue smoothly into what Brexit is likely to bring for European Economic Area nationals.
EEA nationals are in the UK by dint of long residence or are actively pursuing EU rights with many being employees or operating businesses as self-employed individuals. The latter two groups are viewed as being currently economically active. Other rights under the Regulations are: to be here looking for work; studying; or on the basis of being economically self-sufficient. The last means that there is financial support from a pension, investments, work of a family member or something of that nature.
Many EEA nationals have been here for decades, some for their whole lives, and have British partners, homes, children, qualifications, work and friends. In some cases there is no connection remaining at all with the original country of citizenship but that of course is not a requirement. Free Movement has always been about connection and so frequent travel back and forth to Europe is much more common.
For those that are economically active all is well, provided that the work is deemed ‘genuine’ by the Home Office. If more than five years has been completed then there is entitlement to permanent residence and, with that, the assurance of ongoing rights in the UK that are much the same as for a British citizen, save for not being able to go overseas for more than two years without losing status. If six years have been completed then, if wished, it is straight to an application for British citizenship after permanent residence has been evidenced.
Individuals that have been here for less time can qualify for qualified person status by evidencing their right to be here. Again, that is an easy task for those who are economically active. Individuals who are not working, for example those raising children, have more of a challenge because of a little known requirement that they hold comprehensive health insurance for those periods.
Health insurance is a bone of contention, not least because the requirement disproportionately affects women taking time off to care for children. Despite those concerns the requirement remains and so best advice is that, if not working and not already having completed five qualifying years that can be evidenced, EEA nationals should purchase health insurance. Employers may consider offering insurance covering family members as a benefit to the working partner or to employees returning to work after a career break
Other steps that employers can take were discussed using Bath University’s innovative approach. To address the anxiety their EEA staff and students were facing, they set up a website to update all on the situation. They then offered a day of talks from lawyers on evidencing qualifying rights and then further days of consultation to get the necessary applications completed. All was funded by the university, the cost of the forms is £65 each, and individuals were supported throughout and will be for a two year period.
Unsurprisingly, this has retained all the talent that EEA staff bring to the institution. Bath University has not seen the brain creep that other employers are seeing where individuals that are essentially feeling unwelcome are returning back to originating countries. This level of support is not only kind, it is also unquestionably commercial.
Employers should also consider preparing their businesses for employing more widely from the rest of the world because, whilst current EEA employees are unlikely to lose their right to work, future recruitment outside the resident labour market should be planned for. Sponsor licences allow for recruitment from overseas and those international students who graduate in the UK. Talented individuals seek out employers with sponsor licences. Recruiters without licenses are wondering where the talent is hiding.
Here follows a nutshell guide for points that businesses should be aware of:
- Be aware of the anxiety EEA staff are feeling and support them;
- Information should be disseminated as soon as it is available;
- If able, provide staff with access to advice about evidencing their rights in the UK;
- Plan, to avoid recruitment crises in the future;
- Consider the skills your business needs and what the domestic market has;
- Apply for a sponsor licence in good time to fill any identified or future gap;
- Be alert to all potential and actual discrimination in the workplace; and
- Take advice at an early stage.
It was a pleasure to speak at an event attended by MPs and Councillors the day after what took place in Westminster. National papers had already begun to report the home nations that those affected had come from. London is an international city and our businesses, throughout the UK, thrive on global expertise.
Immigration Solicitor – Moore Blatch Solicitors